Although I bought the FJ Cruiser as a means to reach the backcountry 4x4 locations that I had been otherwise taking the Corolla to, I knew it would also inevitably mean a little extra offroading and 4x4 travel without hiking destinations. So after a few weeks of owning Sarge, I just had to drive out to the Mojave Desert with Scott and try some of the trails in my California Trails - Desert Region book.
Sunflower Spring Road and Lost Arch Inn Trail
We left from LA early in the morning, and reached Essex, CA by 11am. I had previously been here before in the rented Jeep Wrangler when I needed my flat repaired, and the "town" hadn't changed one bit. The only difference was that the mechanic was closed today, or at least they hadn't woken up yet. We started east down the old Sunflower Spring Road and detoured to the Golden Fleece Mine, where we found some tailings, an adit, and some ruins. From there we continued past Pilot Peak and a couple other mines until we reached the Lost Arch Inn Trail detour to the south, which brought us by an automobile graveyard that had been plinked. In fact, it would have been quite a gorgeous sight of ruins if they did not have 3000 bullet holes distributed throughout, and shells all over the ground. There were also some amazingly intact structures, but overall, nothing specifically extraordinary for the desert unless you are a desert mine history buff.
After coming out the other side almost in Nevada, we drove back through Needles to a KOA in the Baker area where we spent the night uneventfully. Starbright Trail and Black Canyon Road
This road began a few miles northeast of Barstow, past some communications towers, a mine, and through an area with a communal stone cabin built many years ago that is used as a cabin, shelter, Boy Scout destination, and basecamp for plinking (apparently). No one was there when we arrived, so we were free to explore the inside.
We continued along, past the Starbright Mine and well preserved ore tower(?), before reaching an unexpected obstacle less than a half mile from the end. That obstacle was the new expansion of the China Lake Naval Weapons center, which had erected a fence with very scary signs right across the road that we needed to travel to reach Goldstone Road, the flat and graded dirt road back to civilization and other offroad treks. When we reached it, I contemplated turning back and looked at how far back we would have to go to bypass it. Unfortunately, there were virtually zero shortcuts with the exception of one faint trail that cut across the open desert. Without taking a shortcut, it would be easily 90 minutes of backtracking and detours to get back to where we were going on Goldstone Road only a half mile away.
So we took the shortcut. On the GPS, it looked like a decent path, and it started out as so, but within a mile had deteriorated into an old horse trail through the open desert brush. The road was only marked with wooden posts, about 4 feet high, every 100 feet, and required weaving from bush to bush, letting the creosote give love scratches to the clear coat of my month-old car. It was painful at first, but in retrospect was great because it helped break the seal much earlier than I otherwise would have in regards to offroading capability. And the point of the car is to use it. Eventually we reached Goldstone Road, and after kissing the steering wheel apologetically, we continued north to the intended next trail, Black Canyon Road.
This was a much shorter travel through some dry lake beds and along some washes with minimal difficult driving, but brought us through an unknown region rich with intact petroglyphs and the signatures of ancient explorers, some dating back to the early 180